The Yellowknives Dene have come out opposed to a diamond exploration project given the green light by the Mackenzie Review Board on Jan. 6.
The Mackenzie Review Board approved reality TV show Ice Road Truckers star Alex Debogorski’s diamond exploration proposal, stating the “small scale” project would not likely “have any significant adverse impact on the environment or be a cause of significant public concern.”
Debogorski intends to drill up to 10 exploration holes in the area 50 km east of Yellowknife on the edge of Great Slave Lake.
But for Chief Edward Sangris of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of Dettah, the decision in favour of further development is a cause of “grave concern.”
“Why now are the Yellowknives Dene being ignored? Why now are our concerns and historic claims devalued?” he demanded in a press release sent out last Monday.
The Drybones Bay area is claimed by the Yellowknives as a historical gathering place of cultural and spiritual significance “since time immemorial.” According to Yellowknives elders and archaeological explorations, the area is home to historic burial grounds, as well as a key site for seasonal camps and harvesting grounds for the First Nation’s land users.
The review board’s decision came with four suggestions for the developer intended to “help protect heritage resources as well as reduce development pressure in the Drybones Bay area.” These include a recommendation to obtain the location of important sites from the NWT archaeological sites database and that all staff at the exploration camp be made aware of those near the initial two drilling sites.
The board also suggested Debogorski consult with Yellowknives Dene First Nation traditional land users prior to selecting camp locations or drill sites outside of the footprint of previous camps and roads.
Chief Sangris said he has little faith in the suggestions having any impact on the development.
“These suggestions are not substantive and the board has demonstrated no previous ability to enforce similar suggested measures,” he stated.
He said the review board had “lowered its standards” for clearly-defined project proposals, noting that only a fraction of the exploratory drill holes have been identified, with the remaining subject to the developer’s discretion.
A previous mineral exploration project by Snowfield Development Corp in the Drybones Bay area resulted in a forest fire that consumed a graveyard in 2007. A year later, a large fuel tanker went off the road, crashing through the ice in the bay with at least a thousand litres of fuel. The truck continues to lie submerged in the water.
“A fuel truck was delivering fuel to an exploration project, hit bad ice and the whole tanker fell in,” Yellowknives Chief of Ndilo Ted Tsetta told The Journal. “Six or seven years later it’s still in the water. There’s no need to ask for more permits if they can’t deal with that already. They say it’s going to cause more damage if they remove it.”
Tsetta also mentioned that the two Yellowknives communities of Dettah and Ndilo, located northwest of Drybones Bay on Great Slave Lake, are surrounded by at least 10 abandoned mines, including the arsenic-enshrouded Giant Mine, which is currently being cleaned up.
The chief said impacts from the surrounding industry have changed the First Nation’s way of life.
“The water drains south towards the communities of Dettah and Ndilo,” said Tsetta. “We don’t drink the water off the lake like we used to. We used to take water off the shore. Now we get it delivered from the water truck because we don’t know how safe it is.”
Drybones Bay has been the subject of environmental assessments since the early 2000s. Two other outstanding assessments for diamond exploration in the area currently await ministerial response.